Neoshirakia japonica

Second last in this short series on plants of Japan, today’s photograph with a return to autumn colours for a day is courtesy of stevieiriswattii!@Flickr (original image | | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). Thank you!

Through a series of taxonomic twists and turns, Neoshirakia japonica is the current name for Sapium japonicum as accepted by the Flora of China: Neoshirakia japonica. This is in part due to research by Hans-Joachim Esser, summarized here: Neoshirakia, A New Name for Shirakia Hurus. (Euphorbiaceae). In brief, before being sunk into Sapium and commonly accepted as Sapium japonicum, the species had been published as Shirakia japonica. In most cases, when a previously-published species name is to be resurrected due to additional evidence supporting the previous understanding, it would simply revert (so, in this case, back to Shirakia japonica). In the intervening years, however, it was discovered that the genus name Shirakia had already been applied to a fern — and according to the rules of botanical nomenclature, two vascular plant genera can not have the same name. The end result was that the new genus Neoshirakia was published, with Flora of China researchers currently attempting to determine whether it contains 2 or 3 species.

Neoshirakia japonica is known commonly as the Japanese tallow tree, and it is native to Japan, China and Korea. The taxon is mentioned by Bean in Trees & Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, so presumably it is hardy to zone 8 or 9. For this deciduous shrub or small tree (to 8m or so), Bean makes particular mention of “The leaves turn bright crimson in the autumn.”

Neoshirakia japonica

7 responses to “Neoshirakia japonica”

  1. Pat Willits

    I had a jolt of memory when I saw today’s striking photograph! I think I saw this plant in Bhutan —- is that within its range?

  2. Linda O.

    This is one of the only trees in my area (Central Texas) that has consistantly showy autumn foliage. I love them for that.

  3. Mary Yee

    Magnificent photograph!

  4. Alexander Jablanczy

    If an old name previously used for this plant’s name is reapplied to it then it is not a newly found plant with a new name but an old name resurrected? N’est ce pas? Therefore the new old name shouldn’t be neoshirakia but palaeoshirakia.
    Besides my guess is that hundreds of plants might have been named neo- this and neo- that but this would be the only paleo-.

  5. David Hollombe

    The other Shirakia is an early Mesozoic fossil fern, so I think Neoshirakia fits this one pretty well.

  6. Charles Tubesing

    Holden Arboretum has one individual from seed collected in Korea (NEKG-153, Mt. Sorak)that was planted outdoors in 1996 and was 5 ft. in height when last measured in 2009. Holden Arboretum (Kirtland, OH) is in USDA Zone 5b. Mt. Sorak is one of the coldest locations in South Korea. A few years ago I was told that the Morris Arboretum of the Univ. of PA planned to remove their plants of this taxon because they were producing lots of seed and there were concerns about potential invasiveness.


    if trees could just speak and tell us who what where and when
    i am neoshirakia japonica – but then i suppose some other tree would
    say- no not really from what i heard you are not a member of this
    family you were adopted and brought over here you see
    beauiful other lands have such beauty to show us thank you

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